Home > Auction highlights > DE BAECQUE & ASSOCIÉS - Major rediscovery of the portrait of a Minister to King Henri IV

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DE BAECQUE & ASSOCIÉS - Major rediscovery of the portrait of a Minister to King Henri IV
Wednesday 20 November 2019
On Wednesday 20 November, auction house DE BAECQUE & Associés will offer a bronze bust of a minister to King Henri IV, Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain (1569-1621) executed by an Italian artist who became the official sculptor to the king of France, Francesco Bordoni (1574-1654).

This auction will be an opportunity to give back to its sitter, Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain (1569-1621), his rightful place in the history of France. This minister to King Henri IV was able to stabilize power after the assassination of the king and to maintain peace in the kingdom. 

Attributed to Francesco Di BARTELOMEO BORDONI (1574 -1654), aka Francisque BOURDONNY
Paul Phélypeaux, seigneur de Pontchartrain (1569 -1621)
Brown patinated bronze bust on a turquin blue marble base
Estimate: €500,000-800,000

Scientific and technical analyses, as well as important archival research undertaken by the experts of Sculpture et Collection have allowed for the attribution of this exceptional cast to Francesco Bordoni (1574-1654), an artist of Italian origin who became the official sculptor to the king of France. This artist, originally from Florence, close to the Medici family, who became the king’s official sculptor (“Premier Sculpteur du Roi”) is also the author of a bronze portrait of Louis XIII, which is currently to be found in the collection of the Louvre. This beautiful cast, at once theatrical and embodying the values of moral rectitude and humility of its model, has been conserved by the descendants of Paul  Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain for 400 years.

« The first time that I saw the bust was during the course of an inventory in a private country home. It seemed too beautiful to be true because it appeared to date from the 17th century, but today, all the bronzes from that period are only to be found in museums or private institutions… to find such a masterpiece in someone’s private home was like a dream », auctioneer Géraldine d’Ouince from DE BAECQUE & Associés tells us.

A scientific analysis confirmed the date of the sculpture, which was executed in the first half of the 17th century. « At that time, portraits in bronze were reserved for only the most important figures in the kingdom, » explains Elodie Jeannest de Gyvès and Alexandre Lacroix from Sculpture et Collection. « Only a dozen busts from this period are known to us today and they are all in museums and private collections and the subjects are essentially that of Henri IV and Louis XIII or Cardinal Richelieu. »

Representing the integrity of Pontchartrain, guarantor of stability of power and the maintaining of peace.

a Soberly dressed, in keeping with his position as the king’s minister 
The aesthetic and stylistic choices made by the artist, notably in the sobriety of the dress of Pontchartrain and the preoccupation with truthful rendering of his portrait, underscore the moral integrity and natural authority and grace with which he was able to successfully preserve the stability of the kingdom and maintain peace. He wears a simple outfit, without jewellery or fancy stitching, made of slashed doublets and a wool cloak.

“If the fact that he is wearing a lace ruff seems ostentatious, it was, in fact a very commonly worn item at the time. And that worn by Pontchartrain is not even starched. This simplicity of dress echoes the sitter’s political responsibility as the secretary of state entrusted specifically with easing religious tensions known as “réformée”. The Huguenots were critical of the mannerism and the overly rich ostentation of the high-ranking officials of the time”, explains Géraldine d’Ouince.


A natural charisma that was essential to the stability of power following the assassination of Henri IV 

The movement that the artist has given the cloak, “which gives fullness to his silhouette by underlining his charisma”, as noted by the auctioneer, as well as the statue’s imposing size (86 cm high with the base) and the protective gaze, slightly inclined downward that Pontchartrain gives to all those who observe him - all these elements display the natural authority and benevolence of this statesman. As Géraldine d’Ouince reminds us, “Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain is appointed minister three weeks before the assassination of Henri IV. By remaining in the highest levels of power, he would facilitate the transition of the regency of Marie de Medici, and then enable Louis XIII to assume authority. Pontchartrain was the guarantor of the stability of power in a particularly troubled time, between an assassinated king, an Italian regent, a “prime minister”, Concino Concini, who confiscated power, the emergence of cardinal Richelieu who was then bishop of Luçon…”

A naturalistic portrait that underscores his integrity and his honesty

The sculptor was intent on creating a portrait as realistic as possible of his sitter. This naturalistic representation, which corresponds to the taste of the period, takes into consideration every detail down to the mole that we see on his cheek, “for us this detail is very important because it underscores a scrupulous depiction of the sitter who is here shown exactly as he was. In reading the memoires of Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain, what is striking is his awareness of public welfare and his objectivity regarding the events. It is by keeping far away from intrigue and by remaining objective that he was successful in easing those religious tensions  that were rising in the beginning of the 17th century. It was he who in fact managed to obtain the signature of the Treaty of Loudun in 1616 which kept peace between the nobles of the kingdom, separated in two clans, the Catholics and the Huguenots” add Elodie Jeannest de Gyvès and Alexandre Lacroix from Sculpture et Collection.

Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain (1569-1621) in 4 dates
At the age of 31, Paul Phélypeaux is appointed Secrétaire des commandements to Marie de Medici upon her marriage to Henri IV. In this position he is responsible for writing and enforcing the queen’s orders.
Paul Phélypeaux is made Secrétaire d’Etat. His functions begin only three weeks before the king’s assassination.
During the period of the Regency, Paul Phélypeaux relinquishes his work as minister in charge of military affairs in order to devote himself to matters concerning religion and in this way keeping watch on maintaining peace between the Catholics and the Huguenots. In 1616, in spite of rising tensions amongst the nobility, Paul Phélypeaux manages to put an end to their desire for civil war with the signature of the Treaty of Loudun.
Paul Phélypeaux accompanies King Louis XIII to the siege of Montauban, where the royal army is confronting the rebelling Huguenots. Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain leaves for Castelsarrasin, where he dies on 21 October.

A masterpiece where all of the clues lead straight to Bordoni

A magnificent cast that could only have been made by an Italian sculptor

At the start of the 17th century, bronze was a material that was little used for portrait sculpture. Poorly mastered, it could be very costly. “Only a great artist could have cast a bronze of this scope” , add Elodie Jeannest de Gyvès and Alexandre Lacroix, insisting on the fact that the bronze would have been executed in one go, which is in itself a major technical feat. 

« Our first intuition directed us towards an Italian artist, because at the time there were practically no bronze busts executed by French artists - one does find, however, portraits with this same sort of presence in Italy at the court of the Medici » The experts are emphatic about the virtuosity of the bronze «which seems to rest on barely a half centimetre on the base. It is a major technical feat, which gives lightness to the bust and a theatrical air, as if it was going to fly away»..
Bordoni, official court sculptor and Pontchartrain’s neighbour

Some of the anatomical elements of the bronze portrait, such as the circles under the eyes, the wrinkles, the way the eyelids and the arch of the yebrows are drawn, are detailed with such exactitude and realism that the “artist is very likely to have known Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain personally. At the time, there was just one Italian sculptor in Paris whose work corresponds to all of the criteria that we find in the creation of this bust – Francesco Bordoni (1574-1654) who f requented the same church as Pontchartrain; the church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, near the Louvre” , add Elodie Jeannest de Gyvès and Alexandre Lacroix. Originally from Florence, Bordoni was trained in the studio of the greatest sculptor of the  time, Jean de Bologne. After that, Francesco Bordoni settled in Paris where his talent led to his being appointed to the position of sculptor to the king of  France. From the Château of Fontainebleau to the parvis of Notre-Dame to the equestrian statue of Henri IV that graces the Pont Neuf in Paris, Bordoni participated in the most important creations of his time, as an important specialist of works in bronze. It was a technique that he mastered to perfection.

Scientific analyses and analysis of the artist’s technique confirm the attribution

Scientific research on the sculpture, one being analysis using X-ray micro fluorescence, as well as stylistic comparisons with the Louvre’s bronze portrait  by Francesco Bordoni of Louis XIII, have allowed for the confirmation of the attribution of the work to the artist. “The bronze alloy, principally composed of copper, was used in the 17th century, notably by Bordoni. Additionally, the translucent brown patina, with gold highlights, which covers the metal, corresponds to what one finds in an antique patina”, reports Marie-Emmanuelle Meyohas, restorer trained at the l’Instituto Centrale del Restauro in Rome and person in charge of the technical examination of the bust. This specialist adds that in addition to excelling in the casting of the bronze, Francesco Bordoni was excellent in cold work, as seen in his reworking elements once the cast has cooled, the artist has in fact chiselled each millimetre of the hair,  the beard and the eyebrows using a small chisel. This chiselling, which contrasts with the very smooth quality of the skin gives the bust a certain movement.” The experts estimate that a bust by Bordoni such as this one would have taken the artist roughly six months, or even an entire year to complete.

A portrait bronze that has remained in the family estate of the descendants of Pontchartrain 

Created for the church of the Palais du Louvre: Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois 

The research carried out by the experts of Sculpture et Collection has allowed them to retrace the history of the bust from its creation in the first half of the 17th century until its rediscovery 400 years later by auctioneer Géraldine d’Ouince. “The first information regarding the work came from the brass plaque on the bust itself which gave us the name of Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain  along with his title as « Secrétaire d’État » and the year of his nomination, 1610 »,
explains Alexandre Lacroix. 
Documentary research discovered an engraving by the artist Gérard Edelinck (1640-1707) representing Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain in the same attitude and dress as is shown in the sculpture. The portrait in bronze would have thus served as a direct inspiration for Edelinck in the creation of his engraving that was used to illustrate a passage about Paul Phélypeaux in the book, Les Hommes illustres (1696), by Charles Perrault. « The bust appears again in a 1694 drawing by a well-known architect at the time, Robert de Cotte. The statue is depicted in Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, the church of the Louvre frequented by the most important political and artistic figures of the time, including Bordoni and where the Phélypeaux family had their own private chapel. The bronze is shown at the top of one of the walls », adds Elodie Jeannest de Gyvès. 
The experts then understood why in the portrait bust Paul Phélypeaux is looking downwards and why the bust is 20% larger than life-sized ; it is because it was placed at a certain height and intended to be viewed from below.

Saved from destruction by Pontchartrain’s lineage

For Elodie Jeannest de Gyvès and Alexandre Lacroix, one of the questions that needed to be answered was how exactly this sculpture had managed to survive the destructions of history unlike the majority of important bronzes from this period, « Whether to satisfy the need for canons in time of war, or to destroy the iconography of the Ancien Régime during the French Revolution, most bronzes had been melted down” add the experts from Sculpture et Collection. Paul Phélypéaux was able to rely on his grandson, Louis Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain, who was also appointed Secrétaire d’État and thus minister to the king. Louis was determined to protect the importance of his lineage and highlight the career and influence of his grandfather. In rising to the position of secrétaire d’État in 1610, Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain paved the way for his own descendants. The Phélypeaux family would count eleven ministers and secrétaires d'État during the years of the French monarchy. At the end of the 17th century, Louis Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain decided to pay homage to his grandfather and brought together the whole of the family patrimony in a grand collection exhibited in the Château de Pontchartrain. In moving the bust to the chateau, Louis Phélypeaux saved the statue of his grandfather by exhibiting it at the heart of a prestigious collection of sculptures of the greatest masters such as Giambologna, François Girardon and Michel Anguier…

A historic auction

The bust is to be found again at the end of the 19th century in the same country house in the west of France where it was recently discovered by Géraldine d’Ouince. « We were able to quickly affirm that Paul Phélypeaux seigneur de Pontchartrain was a direct forbearer. But the owners had absolutely no idea as to the value of this sculpture. » Today, the auctioneer knows that the sale on 20 November 2019 will be a historic one: never before has there been a 17th century bronze of this quality, in such remarkable condition and representing a person of such historical importance for sale at auction until now. The portrait in bronze of Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain will be offered at auction with an estimate of 500,000 – 800,000 euros.

Public auction - Drouot - Saleroom 5
Wednesday 20 November - 2pm

Public viewing - Drouot - Saleroom 5
Saturday 16, Monday 18 and Tuesday 19 November - 11am / 6pm


estampes, dessins, tableaux anciens et XIXe, archéologie, sculptures, art d'Asie, mobilier et objets d'art, tableaux anciens, tableaux du XIXe

Lots exhibition: samedi 16 novembre - 11:00/18:00 - lundi 18 novembre - 11:00/18:00 - mardi 19 novembre - 11:00/18:00 - mercredi 20 novembre - 11:00/12:00
Sale: Wednesday 20 November 2019 - 15:00
Salle 5 - Drouot-Richelieu - 9, rue Drouot 75009 Paris
Auction house
De Baecque et Associés
Tel. 04 72 16 29 44 / 01 42 46 52 02


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